Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., suggested today that, with tax rates out of the way as a political issue, President Obama and Congress have to cut spending as part of the negotiations to raise the debt ceiling.

“Despite the President’s call for more and more Americans to send even more of their paychecks to Washington, the federal government will still have another trillion-dollar deficit this year,” McConnell said in a statement today. “But in the upcoming months, we will have the opportunity to put our country back on sound financial footing—and there’s no excuse not to seize it. The President claims to want a balanced approach to solve our problems. And now that he has the tax rates he wants, his calls for ‘balance’ mean he must join us in our efforts to achieve meaningful spending and government reform.”

McConnell — who negotiated with Vice President Joe Biden to avert the fiscal cliff after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., went radio silent — took a shot at his Democratic counterpart while saying that Congress needs to avoid the last-minute crisis situation that characterized the fiscal cliff fight.

“We have an immediate opportunity to act: the debt ceiling,” McConnell said. “Washington’s credit card has reached its limit again, and the Senate majority must act on legislation early in February—rather than waiting until the last minute, abdicating responsibility and hoping someone else will step in once again to craft a last-minute solution for them.”

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., made the point even more forcefully this morning. “[Obama] got a $2 trillion debt limit increase just 17 months ago — blew through all that,” Toomey said on Morning Joe. “We will only solve this problem when we finally get the spending under control. And the debt ceiling, and after that, the continuing resolution expiration — those are the vehicles that give us the opportunity to insist on making progress on the real problem.”

Toomey even suggested that Republicans be willing to go through a partial government shutdown in order to get the necessary spending cuts. “A temporary disruption because we have to furlough the workers at the Department of Education or close down the national parks or not cut the grass on the Mall — that’s not optimal, it’s disruptive, but it’s a hell of a lot better than the path that we’re on,” he said.

Republicans tend to fear the prospect of such a shutdown, given that the party was damaged when the government shut down under then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1995.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, says that Congress needs to come up with a better tool for controlling spending than the debt ceiling.

“The debt limit is supposed to be a structural spending restraint, but it clearly doesn’t work,” Lee told The Washington Examiner today.  “If Congress wants to fix the real problem, we should be enacting permanent structural spending restraints that force Washington to live within its means.  A deal that just trades spending cuts for a higher debt limit perpetuates the dysfunctional system we have and ensures we’ll be asking for another debt limit increase in the future.”